Nelson Mandela said, “There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children.” When we accept the role of governor and trustee, we assume the mantle of responsibility for the future chances of our children and young people. Good governance matters for this reason.
There are lessons to be learned from the small number of high profile failures of governance in multi-academy trusts. We can analyse the failures of governance, the failures of financial management, the failures of regularity and propriety. We can assert that these trust boards were not following education law. Or company law. Or charity law. And there is a potentially overwhelming amount of legislation and regulation in education.
Robust and effective trust governance is undoubtedly ever more important and complex. My top three must-reads for any new trustee would be:
However, it is to ethics I want to turn now. Unlike established professions (law, medicine, accounting), I do not think we talk enough about ethics in education. Ethics is an ancient philosophical tradition which deals with the consideration of right and wrong in thought and conduct. Legislation and regulation are perhaps best understood as the way a society codifies ethics.
In the final analysis, what is needed is for trust boards to make good decisions – decisions which meet the highest standards of public life, including fairness, integrity, avoidance of private profit from public education, even handedness in the appoint of staff, avoidance of waste and extravagance. This is essentially all that propriety means.
And there is no better place for us to start in a discussion about ethics than the principles of public life.
I would like to offer seven questions, drawn directly from the principles of public life, which provide a framework for trust boards to test their decisions.
The litmus test of the Principles of Public Life
Have all our decisions been taken in the public interest?
|Integrity||Have we not acted or taken decisions in order to gain financial or other material benefits for oursevles, our family, or our friends?|
Have our decisions been taken impartially, fairly and on merit, using the best evidence and without discrimination or bias?
Are we comfortable submitting ourselves to external scrutiny?
Have we taken decisions in an open and transparent manner?
Have we been truthful in our actions, decisions and reporting?
Have we demonstrated the highest standards of public life in our individual and corporate behaviour?
There is much talk in education governance about getting the right people with the right knowledge and skills around the board table. This is necessary but not sufficient. We also need people who put values and principles at the heart of decision-making.
We need people who are not afraid to ask constructive and challenging questions if their instinct tells them something is not quite right. We need people who are committed to being the guardians of the single charitable object in the Articles of Association of all academy trusts – the advancement of education in the public interest.
We need people who understand that education is a public good and that being a trustee is about upholding the highest standards of public life.
And we need boards who put ethics at the heart of corporate culture and decision making.
Written by Leora Cruddas, Chief Executive of the Confederation of School Trusts (CST)
CST is the national organisation and sector body for academy and multi-academy trusts, advocating for, connecting and supporting executive and governance leaders. CST’s governance leadership programme, delivered in partnership with Ambition School Leadership, is licensed and funded by the Department for Education. It focuses exclusively on trust governance. All our governance mentors have significant experience of trust governance. Recruitment to the programme is currently open. Register your interest here.